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Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill with Cassandra Wilson at the Irish Arts Center

DSC03541Ireland's County Clare has long been the home of the Emerald Isle's most talented traditional musicians, where practically every pub in sight hosts seisúns until the wee hours of the morning. Count among them Martin Hayes, six-time All-Ireland fiddling champion and the driving force behind Irish-American band The Gloaming, who've played everywhere from Lincoln Center's White Light Festival to the Sydney Opera House

On Saturday, I caught the last night of Hayes' residency at the Irish Arts Center in Hell's Kitchen where, over the course of ten days, he collaborated with everyone from NYC string quartet Brooklyn Rider, to poet Paul Muldoon. Throughout, he was accompanied by Chicago guitarist Dennis Cahill, who plays in The Gloaming and has been Hayes' close musical partner for more than 20 years.

But, Hayes seemed to save the best for last, as he was joined Saturday night by jazz legend Cassandra Wilson. Surprisingly, Hayes said it took awhile for him to warm up to the idea.

"Someone said we should collaborate with Cassandra Wilson, and I wasn't so sure about it. Then, I heard her sing, and I said to myself: 'Oh, I think I might like that after all."

For Wilson, who discovered in 2014 that she has Irish ancestry, singing along to traditional Irish music seemed to come much more naturally. "There's a lot of syncopation, anticipation in the music that's close to what we do in jazz," she told the Wall Street Journal last month. Not to mention a lot of improvisation. (Wilson, who received the Irish Arts Center Spirit of Ireland Award in 2015, will return next week to perform with Irish singer Liam Ó Maonlaí.)

When she wasn't singing soulful, shattering covers of Neil Young ("Harvest Moon") or Joni Michell ("Both Sides Now") Wilson seemed in thrall at the jigs and reels spinning out from Hayes' fiddle and Cahill's guitar, bolstered by pianist Thomas Bartlett (The Gloaming), cellist Kate Ellis, and reed player Doug Wieselman. For an encore, Wilson delivered hands down the most smoldering version of "Molly Malone" I've ever heard. St. Patrick's Day won't ever sound the same again. 

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